College football's Week 4 slate doesn't feature a ton of huge matchups, but there's plenty of impact games. Florida State-Clemson is a marquee ACC battle between two top-10 teams, while Michigan travels to Notre Dame. As usual, the SEC always has a few intriguing contests that are must-see games. Vanderbilt travels to Georgia, LSU hits the road for a matchup against Auburn and new SEC member Missouri takes on South Carolina.
1. Todd Grantham vs. the Vanderbilt coaching staff
This is not a creation of the media: There is legitimately bad blood between the Vanderbilt coaching staff and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Last year’s game, won by Georgia 33–28 in Nashville, ended with Grantham and Commodore head coach James Franklin jawing near midfield before being separated by a Vanderbilt police officer. The Vanderbilt staff thought that some Georgia players, specifically safety Shawn Williams, were a bit too chippy during and immediately following the game. Grantham didn’t appreciate Franklin talking to his players on the field. Fortunately, no punches were thrown, but there is no denying this was a heated exchange.
Both parties are saying all the right things — Franklin recently joked that his family vacationed with the Granthams during the offseason — but there is no doubt there is some lingering animosity.
2. Austyn Carta-Samuels vs. the Georgia defense
Grantham’s defense will be facing a quarterback, junior Austyn Carta-Samuels, making his first start against an SEC opponent. Carta-Samuels has played against quality competition — he faced Texas and BYU twice as well as Boise State, Colorado, Utah and TCU once during his two years at Wyoming — but this Georgia defense will present an enormous challenge. Last year, the Commodores threw for 149 yards vs. Georgia, but 78 of those yards (and the only passing TD) came via trick plays — a 43-yard throw by running back Zac Stacy and a 35-yard toss by punter Ryan Fowler on a fake. Vanderbilt’s two quarterbacks, Larry Smith and Jordan Rodgers, combined to complete only 9-of-29 passes for 71 yards with three interceptions. Carta-Samuels will have to play extremely well to give Vanderbilt a chance for the upset.
3. Can Arkansas beat an FBS opponent?
Arkansas was touted by some as a legitimate national championship contender during the offseason. Now, the Hogs are simply hoping to win a game. The Razorbacks are 0–2 vs. FBS competition, with a loss to UL Monroe in overtime and a 52–0 debacle against Alabama last Saturday. The good news is that Tyler Wilson likely will be back at quarterback after missing the Bama game with a concussion. The bad news is that Wilson can’t help a defense that is allowing 436.7 yards per game. The Hogs’ issues on defense will put pressure on the offense to score a bunch of points in virtually every game. And that could be a problem on Saturday. Rutgers isn’t Alabama, but the Scarlet Knights are pretty nasty on defense. They ranked eighth in the nation in scoring defense and 14th in total defense in 2011 and have continued their strong play early in the ’12 season. Kyle Flood’s team has also experienced success on the road with wins at Tulane (24–12) and South Florida (23–13). This will be a significant test for Arkansas.
4. The Battle of Columbia
South Carolina and Missouri meet for the first time ever as members of the SEC. All things equal, you probably have to give South Carolina the edge due to the location of the game (Columbia, S.C.) and the Gamecocks’ advantage on defense. But all things might not be equal. Both quarterbacks are nursing injuries. South Carolina’s Connor Shaw returned to the starting lineup after sitting out last week’s game vs. East Carolina, but he had to leave the game in the second quarter after taking a big hit to his shoulder. Shaw will get the start on Saturday, but he has yet to complete a game this season. Missouri’s James Franklin is also nursing an injured shoulder. He did not play in the Tigers’ win vs. Arizona State but is expected back on Saturday. South Carolina is better suited at this point to win with its No. 2 quarterback in the game. After struggling in a brief appearance in the opener against Vanderbilt, Dylan Thompson has been solid in relief of Shaw — albeit against inferior competition. Missouri’s backup, Corbin Berkstresser, played relatively well in the Tigers’ 24–20 win over Arizona State, but he is a redshirt freshman who has yet to take a snap on the road.
5. Can Auburn be competitive?
Even the most ardent Auburn fan realizes it will be a tall order for the Tigers to beat mighty LSU this Saturday — even at Jordan-Hare Stadium. But it’s not too much for the Auburn faithful to expect their team to be more competitive against the elite programs in the league. The Tigers are 2–5 in their last seven SEC games, and the five losses have come by an average of 28.6 points. That’s a startling regression for a program that won a national championship just two years ago. Through three games, Auburn ranks 102nd in the nation in total offense and 104th in scoring offense. In the two games vs. AQ conference opponents (Clemson and Mississippi State), the Tigers have scored a total of one touchdown.
6. How ugly will get it in Gainesville?
Kentucky has lost 25 straight overall to Florida and 16 straight in Gainesville. The Wildcats’ last four trips to the Swamp have been especially gruesome, with the Gators winning by an average score of 39–7. And barring a major reversal from both teams, Saturday’s game at Florida Field figures to be just as one-sided. Florida returns home with a ton of swagger after winning two tough SEC road games. The Gators played the finest game of the Will Muschamp era on Saturday night, surging past Tennessee 37–20 in Neyland Stadium. Kentucky, meanwhile, is fresh off a humbling overtime loss at home to Western Kentucky. UK has now lost to the other two FBS programs in the state of Kentucky. This is a tough spot for Joker Phillips and the wounded Wildcats.
7. Can Ole Miss get more touches for Jeff Scott?
Jeff Scott is averaging 10.3 yards per carry in the two games he has played this season. The problem? He has only had 20 rushing attempts. Hugh Freeze acknowledged on Monday that he would like to get Scott, one of the few proven playmakers on the Ole Miss offense, more touches. But Scott is only 5-7 and 170 pounds, which can cause some problems when he is asked to get involved in protecting the quarterback. “If he’s in there for a consistent amount of time, we’re going to have to ask him to (pass protect) also,” Freeze said. “I don’t question Jeff’s or (tailback) Jaylen (Walton)’s heart at all with that. (But) we had defensive ends the other night (vs. Texas) that are 6-5 and 280 pounds.”
8. Can the Alabama defense pitch another shutout?
Alabama’s defensive numbers are staggering, especially when you consider the Crimson Tide have faced two preseason top 25 teams away from home — Michigan in Texas and Arkansas in Fayetteville. Bama has recorded two straight shutouts and has only allowed points in two of 12 quarters this season. This Saturday, the Tide will seeking their third straight shutout — something that hasn’t happened since 1966 — against a Florida Atlantic team that ranks 116th in the nation in scoring (14.7 ppg).
9. Bowden returns to the SEC … sort of
Terry Bowden will make his first appearance as head coach in an SEC venue since Oct. 17, 1998, when his Auburn Tigers lost at Florida 24–3. Bowden, who went 47–17–1 in five-plus seasons at Auburn, is in his first season as the boss at Akron. The Zips, 1–2 in ’12, visit Neyland Stadium on Saturday to a face a Tennessee team eager to get back on track after losing to Florida. “I’ve had the fortune of coaching in all the SEC venues,” Bowden said earlier this week. “And this is one of the most electric.” Bowden only played Tennessee twice during his time at Auburn, losing 30–29 in the 1997 SEC Championship Game and 17–9 in Knoxville in 1998.
10. Will Johnny Manziel ever throw a pick?
We don’t expect Manziel to navigate Texas A&M’s brutal SEC slate without making his share of mistakes, but the Aggies’ redshirt freshman quarterback is off to a great start. Manziel is completing 65.2 percent of his passes and has yet to throw an interception in 66 attempts. He is also a threat on the ground, with 184 yards rushing on 30 carries. “He’s a very talented guy,” A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said earlier this week. “He has to continue to work on moving from an athlete that’s playing quarterback to a quarterback that’s an athlete. And there’s a big difference.”
College football's Week 3 slate is full of interesting action. Arkansas had a surprising defeat to Louisiana-Monroe last week but has a chance to knock off No. 1 Alabama this Saturday. The Razorbacks are heavy underdogs and could be without starting quarterback Tyler Wilson. The action in the SEC isn't limited to Arkansas-Alabama, as Florida-Tennessee meet in Knoxville for a crucial East Division showdown.
A look at the conference's biggest and best rivalries.
Back in 1913, a boy named Paul Bryant was born in the small town of Fordyce, Ark., and about a decade later he picked up the nickname Bear. The football team in his native state wasn’t that great, so Bryant ended up choosing to play at Alabama, where he would later become a championship coach and legend.
Florida heads to Rocky Top for crucial SEC West Showdown
College football’s third week of action features a huge showdown in the SEC East, a big matchup with Michigan State and Notre Dame and Thursday night clash between to Big East title hopefuls.
10 Biggest Games of Week 3
Florida(+3) at Tennessee
A few months ago, when CBS was selecting its early season schedule, the network passed on the Tennessee-Florida game (for the first time since 1995) in favor of Alabama’s trip to Arkansas. Now, however, after Tennessee’s hot start, Florida’s win at Texas A&M and Arkansas’ shocking loss to UL Monroe, the Vols vs. Gators showdown in the marquee game of the day in the nation’s premier conference. Tennessee has looked sharp in both games — a win over NC State in Atlanta and a lopsided victory over hapless Georgia State — but Florida is the more battle-tested of the two teams. The Gators’ offense is still an issue, but there were signs of progress in the 20–17 win at Texas A&M on Saturday. The story of the game, though, was the Florida defense. After giving up three drives of more than 70 yards in the first half, UF limited A&M to a total of 65 yards in the second half. Tennessee’s Tyler Bray might be the most physically gifted quarterback in the nation, but he has yet to lead his team to a victory against a quality opponent with an elite defense. Florida 24, Tennessee 21
Alabama (-21) at Arkansas
Arkansas’ loss to UL Monroe last week was a blow to the Razorbacks’ ego, but it’s important to remember that it was not a conference game. However, it’s very difficult to envision a scenario in which a team that lost a 28–7 lead at home (in Little Rock) to UL Monroe is good enough to challenge Alabama and LSU in the SEC West. To make matters worse, All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson might not play due to an injury suffered in the Monroe game. Alabama, meanwhile, is rolling right along. The Crimson Tide improved to 2–0 with a 35–0 win over Western Kentucky and looks like the best team in the country after two weeks. This trip to Fayetteville will be Bama’s first true road game, so don’t be surprised if the Tide struggles a bit — even if Wilson doesn’t play for Arkansas. In the end, though, Alabama will prevail. Alabama 31, Arkansas 17
Notre Dame (+4) at Michigan State
For the first time since 2005, both Notre Dame and Michigan State are undefeated for their annual early season showdown. Michigan State moved to 2–0 with a 41–7 win in its first-ever visit to Central Michigan. Le’Veon Bell was “held” to 70 yards on 18 carries after exploding for 210 against Boise State. Notre Dame gutted out a 20–17 win over an underrated Purdue club that features an outstanding defensive front. The Irish had trouble running the ball, but Everett Golson and Tommy Rees combined to throw for 324 yards and one touchdown. The key for Notre Dame, however, will be on defense and its ability to slow down Bell and the Michigan State rushing attack. Andrew Maxwell is a talented quarterback, but the first-year starter made some key mistakes in the win over Boise State. Notre Dame must force Maxwell to make plays down field. Michigan State 27, Notre Dame 21
USC (-9) at Stanford
Matt Barkley has been nearly flawless through two games. The senior quarterback has completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 559 yards with an amazing 10 touchdowns — four more than any other player in the nation. It helps when Marqise Lee and Robert Woods are your primary targets, but Barkley is clearly playing the position at the highest level. USC’s defense, however, was a bit of a disappointment last week. The Trojans surrendered 455 yards to Syracuse in a 42–29 win over the Orange at the Meadowlands. We knew this wasn’t going to be one of the premier defenses in the nation, but those numbers are a bit alarming. Stanford bounced back from a lethargic Week 1 win over San Jose State by dominating Duke 50–13 in Palo Alto. The Cardinal have won three straight in this series. They won’t get to No. 4. USC 38, Stanford 24
Arizona State (+7) at Missouri
Todd Graham might not be the most well-liked coach in America, but he’s done a terrific job early in his first season at Arizona State. The Sun Devils are 2–0 with wins over Northern Arizona (63–6) and Illinois (45–14). Now, Graham and the Devils take their show on the road to face a Missouri team that must bounce back — both physically and emotionally — from a 41–20 loss at home to Georgia in the school’s first-ever SEC game. Missouri played well for much of the game but was overwhelmed by the Bulldogs’ front seven on defense in the fourth quarter. The Tigers won’t face the same type of defensive pressure this week, which is good news for the banged up Mizzou offensive line. If quarterback James Franklin has ample time to operate, the Tigers should get back in the win column this weekend. Missouri 30, Arizona State 24
Wake Forest (+25) at Florida State
This line seems a bit high considering that Wake Forest beat Florida State last season and played well last week in a 28–27 win over a well-regarded North Carolina team. The Deacons had trouble running the ball vs. UNC, but Tanner Price completed 27-of-38 for 327 yards to lead the passing attack. Florida State has won its two games by a combined score of 124–3, but the two wins came against FCS opponents. We think this is a very good FSU team, but we won’t know for sure until the Noles play a few schools that hand out more than 65 scholarships. After Wake, Florida State hosts Clemson and then travels to South Florida and NC State. It’s a crucial stretch for the preseason ACC favorites. Florida State 30, Wake Forest 17
Connecticut (-2.5) at Maryland
It’s the highly anticipated Randy Edsall bowl. The not-so-popular head coach went 74–70 in 12 years at Connecticut before bolting for his “dream job” at Maryland. Things haven’t gone so well in College Park, where Edsall has a 4–10 record through the second week of the 2012 season. The Terps are 2–0 in ’12, but the wins have come against William & Mary (by one) and Temple (by nine). There is some quality young talent on the roster — and the Terps are starting a true freshman quarterback (Perry Hills) — but the program has a long way to go to be relevant in the ACC. UConn has split its first two games, dominating UMass 37–0 in Week 1 before dropping a 10–7 decision to NC State at home last weekend. The sample size is small (and the first opponent was dreadful), but the Huskies have been stout on defense so far in 2012. That, combined with Maryland’s struggles on offense, gives UConn the advantage in this classic Big East vs. ACC showdown. UConn 13, Maryland 10
BYU (-4) at Utah
Utah’s season hasn’t exactly planned. First, the Utes had a 12-game winning streak vs. in-state rival Utah State snapped. Then starting quarterback Jordan Wynn announced that he was retiring from football after suffering another shoulder injury. That leaves senior Jon Hays (12-of-26 vs. Utah State) as the starter with true freshman Travis Wilson being used as a change-of-pace option. BYU, on the other hand, has looked very good in wins at home vs. Washington State (30–6) and Weber State (45–13). The Cougars will be out for some revenge after getting pounded at home, 54–10, last season by their hated rivals from Salt Lake City. BYU 24, Utah 14
North Carolina (+3.5) at Louisville
North Carolina’s hopes of contending in the ACC Coastal took a big hit with a surprising loss at Wake Forest on Saturday. The Tar Heels are ineligible to play in the league’s title game, but there was a belief among many — including Athlon Sports — that they could challenge Virginia Tech in the division. That, however, will be difficult after Saturday’s loss. Louisville remains the favorite in the Big East. The Cardinals are 2–0 after beating Kentucky and Missouri State at home. Sophomore Teddy Bridgewater has been terrific in both games. He’s completed 49-of-60 (81.7 percent) for 576 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Nobody expects him to continue to operate with that type of efficiency, but Bridgewater is emerging as one of the top young quarterbacks in the game. Louisville 24, North Carolina 20
Rutgers (+9) at South Florida (Thu.)
Once again, South Florida is off to a strong start. The Bulls improved to 2–0 with an impressive come-from-behind win over a solid Nevada team in Reno. Now, the Bulls need to sustain this strong play throughout the course of the season — something they haven’t been able to do in recent years. Rutgers is 2–0, but the Scarlet Knights haven’t been overly impressive in wins over Tulane (a bad FBS team) and Howard (a mediocre FCS team). The Scarlet Knights are only averaging 315 yards per game (ranks 100th in the nation), an alarmingly low number given the level of competition. Jawan Jamison has looked good running the ball (222 yards on 28 carries), but nothing else has really stood out about the RU attack. South Florida 24, Rutgers 16
Last week: 6–4 overall (4–6 against the spread) Season: 15–5 overall (11–9 against the spread)
It's another big week in the SEC, as Arkansas hosts Alabama and Florida travels to Knoxville in a crucial East Division matchup. The Razorbacks could be without quarterback Tyler Wilson and are reeling after a disappointing loss to ULM. The Crimson Tide didn't have a flawless effort against Western Kentucky but should be ready for Arkansas' offense on Saturday. Two games to keep an eye on: Western Kentucky at Kentucky and ULM at Auburn. Both games are trendy upset picks this week, especially after ULM beat Arkansas in Little Rock last Saturday.
Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas is off to a ridiculous start.
Only two weeks of the 2012 college football season are in the books, but there has been plenty of action so far. After two weeks, Athlon runs down 10 surprises, including Pac-12 teams UCLA, Arizona and Oregon State. There's still plenty of time for our opinion to change on these teams/players/units over the next few weeks, but here are 10 things that caught our attention through two games.
College Football's Top 10 Surprises After Two Weeks